Review: The History Boys

Bakery at 1812, Ferntree Gully
6-29 October
1812 Theatre

On a cooler Spring evening, what a pleasant trip it was to ride out to the beautiful little 1812 Theatre in Ferntree Gully. The scene and ambiance was set as soon as you entered the Bakery space, and you knew you were going to be a part of something residing in education.  A classroom from the 1980’s brings back a sense of nostalgia as you walk past the chair desks, and you have the sense that you too are here to learn.

The History Boys, written by Alan Bennett follows a group of 8 young men as they prepare for university  entrance examinations. Set in the late 1980’s, themes look into the purpose of education, teaching philosophies, sexuality, truth, hope, the understanding of knowledge and brief touches on gender equality.

Attending the evening with little knowledge of the play I had the thought there would be flavours of Good Will Hunting and To Sir, With Love.  Looking then to be inspired by a remarkable teacher, I greatly enjoyed watching the stories unfold of the 4 teaching staff.  

Peter Maver as Hector has a very clear presence on stage. His truthful eccentricity as a teacher who teaches for life is far from “an old man in a dry season” as Maver plays the highs and lows of his character with superb skill.  Blake Stringer as Irwin is the counterbalance of the pair, and he brings to life what is rather more a straightness of society teaching simply for the test.  Mrs Linott played by Marianne Collopy is poised in every instance, a clear confidence in the room as she holds the audience. Reg Ellergy’s role as the principal shows the clear weight a leader holds over his colleagues whereby turning a blind eye and lacking insight can be both a blessing or a curse as a commanding headmaster full of demands at the Cutlers’ Grammar School.

The 8 history boys play together perfectly with varying cheek and wit. There are times where you almost feel the urge to leave your seat and join in the class as you reminisce relatable classroom experiences.  Lochlan Gibbons-Tighe porteys Dakin with fluency and poise, a leading character with a memorable personality that all know too well at every high school. His yearning to be seen in favourable light with all of his teachers sets up a subplot, backed up with the small narrations and mimed piano from the confident Mitchell Whitten who plays Scripps.  Elliot Shute as Posner is memorable, displaying a wide variety of emotion here with his character needling his way to his coming of age.  His solos are well thought out, motives captivating with an essence of sincerity and understanding. 

I also really enjoyed the character development of Rudge played by Morgan Doe, whereby his docile almost non-interest at the start of the play turns into some great moments and overall success as the story unfolds.  Timms (Ethan Powell) with a strong tone of sarcasm and good use of body language as he hangs out of his chair plays together with Lockwood (Jacob El-Ali) to have some fabulous light hearted moments.  The movie scenes where the youngsters send up classic movie scenes for Hector to guess are highlights, the cigarette sketch here a favourite.  The ensemble’s comradery would also not be complete without Rav Kumar as Akthar, Jamey Callander as Crowther and Timothy Schmitke’s appearance.  The skills of all combined makes for a tightly run performance group.

The costumes used in History Boys are simple and appropriate.  Each character wears their uniform slightly differently and there is room for adjustments where shirts open up and a pair of trousers even come off! The teachers’ outfits are also dressed to match their personalities. The simple classroom set is utilised well, the changing from student room to staff lounge and principals office has minimal movement with some appropriate touches here.  The lighting worked wonderfully to highlight each scene, and was both efficient and effective to highlight soliloquies.

Whilst the play itself is quite lengthy in duration, the characters and storyline in 1812’s production were well held and the strength in the believability made for a delightful evening of entertainment.  As a teacher myself it made me reflect upon the joys of teaching, the ability to be innovative and the understanding that a teacher is human.  “Pass it on” was a resounding message of encouragement and the passion to share the knowledge gained throughout one’s life.

The History Boys is a snapshot of school life, with relatable energy and a good use of humour.  It is performed brilliantly by the team at 1812 Theatre.

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Wendy Samantha

Wendy Samantha

Wendy Samantha is a writer and director and runs her own performing arts school. She has worked on many shows and musicals and is head of primary music at a prestigious Melbourne private school.
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